Feb 282016

This weekend’s Purse Party 2016, especially before I begin five weeks of radiation treatments on Monday, was a welcome treat after almost six weeks of recovery following surgery for endometrial cancer. Purse Party is hosted annually by one of my local quilt shops, Quilter’s Cupboard in Ankeny, Iowa. The newest bag patterns and samples are introduced, along with some old favorites. Bag-sewing tips are shared, and tools to make your bag-sewing easier are recommended. If you’re looking for a list of bag sewing patterns to attempt, scroll down to the bottom of this post, where you’ll find a list of patterns. You can order patterns directly from the friendly folks at Quilter’s Cupboard, or online if you prefer.

Purse Party attendees also receive a designed-by-Quilter’s Cupboard pattern, in this case the Place for Everything Pouch where you can store sewing or needlework notions, cosmetic supplies, jewelry, and even your colored pencils, blending stubs and other drawing tools.


At a previous Purse Party, Quilter’s Cupboard offered attendees a free Pet Screen Tote pattern. This pattern is now available for purchase. Contact Quilter’s Cupboard directly.

Patterns by Annie Trunk Show

New this year was a Patterns by Annie Trunk Show featuring bags that punched quite a “wow” factor. Picnic in the Park, for example, is a fabulous padded, pocketed picnic basket layered with fabric and foam that produce a marvelously structured bag. Quilter’s Cupboard owner Cindy Peters points out, however, that most people are making it to carry their sewing projects and notions for quilting retreats, sewing weekends, or a take-your-sewing-with-you vacation.

Picnic in the Park

Another Patterns by Annie pattern, Bon Voyage! Tote, is a generously-sized tote bag that includes outer slip pockets for your keys and phone, three inner slip pockets, and a hanging zipper pocket that is the perfect size for your electronic tablet.


Also included with the pattern is a see-through Project Tote that would be perfect for keeping supplies for small projects together. Tuck in your pattern, fabric and notions, and you’re ready to go. I can imagine having an entire series of these!


The Get Out of Town Duffle is a zippered, structured bag with lots of pockets. The bag fits perfectly into an overhead bin for your weekend flight. You’ll want to purchase the pattern, simply to learn how to make an adjustable strap with a shoulder pad.


Shopping at a local craft fair? You’ll need the To Market, To Market Tote & Tag. Use the roomy zipper tote for purchased goods, and the Name Tag & Essentials Bag for your event I.D., credit card and loose bills. The Name Tag & Essentials Bag can be worn either around your neck or on your shoulder, and is adjustable. Although the pattern is easy to follow, you can watch a series of video tutorials by Patterns by Annie that walk you through the steps of making the Name Tag & Essentials Bag.

To Market, To Market

The Open Wide! Bag is aptly named because it opens up wide and allows easy access to contents. Organize your belongings with the handy mesh pockets. The pattern includes three sizes, perfect for organizing your travel supplies.


Special Occasions at the Abbey is actually a two-for-one pattern, featuring Lady Sylvia’s Swirl purse and Lady Edith’s Ruffled Rosette purse. Both bags are just big enough to hold your evening essentials. The patterns are inspired by the ladies of Downton Abbey. These tiny bags generated a great deal of excitement at Purse Party.


Becca Bag Sewing Class

When I visited Quilter’s Cupboard today to take photos for this post, several women were engaged in a sewing class, making Becca Bags from Lazy Girl Designs. What makes these “stow and go” bags extra special is the easy circular One-Zip technique, which involves cutting a zipper apart, removing the pull, and stitching in one side of the zipper tape straight and flat. Bring the ends of the zipper together and slide the zipper pull back on. When you open the bag, the zipper installation allows the bag to open up wide, and the bag stands on its own.

Becca Bags

10 Bag Sewing Tips

One of the most helpful aspects to a Quilter’s Cupboard Purse Party is learning new tips about sewing bags. Here are a few tips I jotted down:

  1. Don’t throw away your Bosal In-R-Form or By Annie’s Soft and Stable foam stabilizer scraps. Instead, use Heat Press Batting Together to fuse the bits together on both the front and back.
  1. When you use a foam stabilizer, the seam layers can become quite bulky, especially if you plan to apply bias binding. Compress them by sewing parallel lines of straight stitching between the seam line and raw edge, or use a zigzag stitch. You can also do a decorative stitch on the outside of the bias binding, which looks nice and does essentially the same thing.
  1. Instead of installing metal purse feet, consider sewing buttons to your bag bottom. Layer large and small buttons together to achieve thickness.
  1. To produce soft-but-strong purse straps, use Dreamy Fleece Fusible from Lazy Girl Designs, or Pellon 987f Fusible Fleece (available at JoAnn Fabrics).
  1. If you are having trouble sewing layers or hard-to-sew spots, try using Fabric Fuse Liquid Adhesive by Therm-o-Web.
  1. To give your bag both softness and structure, layer Dreamy Fleece Fusible (or Pellon 987f Fusible Fleece) and Pellon 809 Decor Bond (a fusible heavyweight woven interfacing, available at Joann Fabrics).
  1. Use 505 Spray and Fix Temporary Fabric Adhesive to make anything fusible that is not fusible. This is a temporary basting spray, so it does wash away, but in most cases you will not throw your finished bag into a washing machine. 505 Spray will not gum up a sewing machine needle.
  1. To add body to a fabric, or to turn a cotton fabric into home decor fabric, iron on Pellon SF 101 Shape-Flex®.
  1. If zipper installation makes you nervous, visit By Annie’s Zippers Are Easy Videos.
  1. To measure, mark and press hems all in one step, use the newest heat-resistant Clover Press Perfect Hot Ruler by Joan Hawley of Lazy Girl Designs. It’s great to use for bag handles, binding hems, rounded corners, and interior and mitered corners. Fold your fabric over the Hot Hemmer, and press your fabric into place with either a dry or steam iron.

Explore These Bags, Organizers and Accessories

Patterns by Annie:

Purses/Tote Bags:

Accessories/Smaller Bags:

In The Hoop Machine Embroidery:

Just for Fun:

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Feb 212016

If we can avoid it, most of us prefer not to re-do our craft storage systems. We’d rather use that time for crafting! I’m no different—when I originally stored my wafer-thin steel dies and foam-backed dies inside a combination of three-ring binders and plastic storage boxes (see How to store your wafer-thin cutting dies), I felt pretty good about both systems.

Old Die Storage System

The binders I use for my thin foam-backed dies still work just fine, as this collection is not too large. But my collection of thin steel dies is immense, making it difficult to locate the one I need in a snap. I tried to solve this issue by developing a spreadsheet with a “Location” column (see Create a master inventory system for your cutting dies), but while this has helped me to locate the box or binder where dies are stored, it doesn’t allow me to zoom in on the exact location for dies stored in plastic boxes.


I find myself paging through randomly stored magnetic sheets until I find the correct one. This can sometimes take quite a while.


In the end, I decided to adopt the wafer thin steel die storage system recommended by Jennifer of Jennifer McGuire Ink in her Craft Organization and Storage videos, among them Die Storage from 2013, and Staying Organized (Stamps, Dies and More) from 2015. Jennifer stores her dies upright in a combination of square 5×5 CD sleeves, 5×8 or 6×9 job ticket holders, and 5-5/8 x 7-3/8 inch Avery Elle Stamp & Die Storage Pockets. The pockets are then stacked, one behind the other, inside clear, sturdy InterDesign refrigerator bins you can purchase online or at your local Bed Bath & Beyond store in the kitchen storage section. This makes all dies easily visible and quick to find. The bins are portable, so you can store them on an open shelf or carry them to your worktable.

InterDesign Fridge Bin

Dies are separated into categories and identified with labeled dividers, and each die pocket is labeled, too. For the most part, I am using Avery Elle clear protective pockets as shown below.

Avery Elle Pockets

When I decided to adopt Jennifer’s system, I adapted a couple of elements to suit myself. First of all, Jennifer uses inexpensive colored vinyl folders to use as category dividers. She cuts them to size, rounds the corners, and tosses the leftover folder bits. I decided to use white kitchen cutting mats you can purchase from your local Dollar Store or online, and cut them to size in the same way that Jennifer does. The difference, I think, is mainly that your dividers will be white, and they may be cheaper to buy as a package of two cutting mats for one dollar than they would be if purchased as individual vinyl folders. On the other hand, if you prefer colored dividers, visit your local office supply store and purchase colored vinyl folders or vinyl index page dividers. Whether you use vinyl folders, pre-cut dividers (that you still have to trim), or vinyl cutting mats, they are all about equal in weight and sturdiness.

Kitchen Chopping Mats as Category Dividers

Jennifer uses a Brother label maker to label all of her category dividers and clear protective pockets. I own a Brother PT-D400 Label Maker, not the same model as Jennifer’s, but mine works pretty much the same as hers. If you purchase one, make sure you purchase an adapter with it, as it will save you the dollars you would otherwise spend on batteries.

Brother Label Maker

If you have a Brother label maker or are thinking about getting one, I highly recommend you watch Jennifer’s video, My Favorite Crafty Things: Organization from 2015 (advance the video to 8:08), where she provides tips for how to conserve your labeling tape. The label maker has a feature called “chain print” that allows you to print multiple labels closely together, instead of advancing the tape an inch or more after every label. After all of your labels are printed, you can snip the tape between labels with a pair of scissors.

Conserving Labeling Tape

The tapes, which do work well, have one drawback—they are rather expensive. If I buy labeling tape from my local office supply store, it costs $18.99 for 26.2 feet, so I look for a coupon first. Otherwise, I search online for the best deal, such as Amazon, where the last time I checked the cost was $9.66. Quite a difference!

Labeling Tape

Jennifer uses labeling tape for just about everything in her craft room. So far, in regard to die storage, I only use it for my category dividers.

Labeled Category Dividers
For my clear protective pockets, I use Avery Laser Labels 5267. Please note that these labels work for both laser and inkjet printers. The labels are compact, measuring ½ inch by 1-3/4 inches, and come 80 labels to a sheet. I use Arial Narrow in a 10-point font to identify the die’s manufacturer, design and item number.

Pocket Labels

I discovered one drawback to these labels: they peel off the clear protective pockets as quickly as you adhere them. The solution is easy. I insert a rectangle of white card stock inside each pocket to make the die visible, but also to provide a place for special instructions or a matching stamp. I insert the die in front of the card stock insert, and other items behind it. Instead of adhering the Avery label to the pocket, I stick it to the card stock insert. This system is much faster than using a label maker because you can type and print many labels in a jiffy. I save the file for these completed labels from one typing session to another so that I know where the next label is located. I simply highlight the new labels and print that selection.

Labeled Pockets with Dies

I have not completed my new die storage system, but as you can see, a refrigerator bin storage system holds many dies. In the photo below you see more than 90 dies, and there is space for many more. When not in use, I store the bin on a bookshelf. Otherwise, I simply move it to my craft table. One storage bin accommodates hundreds of dies. In contrast, my previous plastic box system stored fewer than half of my dies and took up four boxes.

Half-Filled Fridge Bin

You might be wondering what I will do with my old plastic die boxes. To be honest, I am still thinking about alternate uses; if you have suggestions, let me know in the comments below. I may sell them for $5 apiece, plus shipping. If you’re interested, you can email me at judynolan@aol.com. But the magnetic sheets inside them are being cut up, as needed, to accommodate layered sets of dies inside the pockets for the new system. Of course, some dies already come with magnetic sheets.

Pockets with Magnetic Sheet Inserts

If you have a boatload of wafer thin steel cutting dies, what storage system works best for you?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Feb 082016

When I flipped to a new tab on my browser this afternoon to perform a Google search, I was greeted by an image of a tribe of monkeys, with each monkey doing its own thing. It strikes me that this is how many of us feel at the beginning of the work week: a little scattered when focus is required, and altogether too busy. Some people refer, jokingly, to the first working day of the week as Blue Monday, especially if they don’t care for their job. Because I don’t fall into that category—I do enjoy my job—I guess I might sometimes refer to the beginning of the week as Madcap Monday, simply because that’s when I find myself juggling priorities to determine what, when and how much will be accomplished during the week.

Image courtesy of TAW4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of TAW4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mondays are generally busy days for nearly everyone I know, but I wonder if they might feel less so if we sit back, take a deep breath, and deliberately slow things down. In other words, we might find ourselves becoming more productive by taking a moment to be mindful of something else entirely than the task at hand.

According to Tsh (pronounced Tish) Oxenrider in My break-up with busy, “It’s like we don’t even think ‘busy’ is a unique, situational status in our lives. It’s strange to not be busy.” When our schedules are so full that we cannot even breathe, Tsh does what on the surface seems counterproductive: she takes a walk. I have found myself doing the same at work, to be honest. The building in which I work is campus-sized, and it takes a while to walk from one end of the building and back. When I return to my desk, I have a fresh outlook, a new store of energy, and focus.

It’s not just in the traditional business world that you encounter that phenomenon of being too busy. You can work at home and have so much to do that you don’t know where to begin. That’s when it’s probably best to simply take a break and do something that gives you pleasure. Maybe that means you’ll read for 30 minutes, take a walk, listen to some music while you close your eyes and think about absolutely nothing, or maybe you’ll pull out some colored pencils and color in one of those adult coloring books that are so popular right now. Possibly you’ll take a few moments to water your plants and trim the brown leaves.

While I was recuperating from surgery, John brought me some African violets to tend.

While I was recuperating from surgery, John brought me some African violets to tend.

Whatever you decide to do to beat back that sense of being too busy, you’ll want to give it your full attention. Maybe you will decide to do nothing. So, give nothing your all, and just let the moment stretch out. I have never meditated, at least not officially, but I suspect that’s what meditation is all about.

Possibly your way of taking a proverbial walk is to think about what makes you happy. And that’s what I am going to do in this post . . . I’d like to share with you three small pleasures that simply make me feel calm, appreciative, or glad. You’ll notice that each pleasure involves the senses—sight, sound, scent, and touch—as well as movement or the lack of movement.

Sitting in front of a fire, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness. I like to move my rocking chair close to the warmth, listen to the crackling flames, and allow the wood smoke to drift my way. And then I think about nothing at all. The result is often clarity about some issue or problem, likely because you’re giving the subconscious part of your mind space in which to work things through.

Crackling Fire

For my birthday, my husband presented me with a tin of 72 Prismacolor® colored pencils. I can’t wait to try them out on the designs inside the adult coloring book below. The pencils are butter-soft with rich colors, and blend beautifully. When I color, it’s not just about what I see in front of me, but also the sensation of soft lead pressing into the paper, that makes me feel calm and surprised, by turns.


You can practice mindfulness while enjoying flavors. It doesn’t take long to mix up a fruit smoothie, topped off with a ball of vanilla bean ice cream. The first swallow is pure pleasure, so take it slowly and enjoy each sip through your straw. For just a little while, don’t think about anything but the flavors rolling inside your mouth and sliding down your throat. When you’re finished, you’ll have new energy for your next project.

These glasses are a bit overfilled, but they didn't stay that way long. To make two full glasses, blend the following in your blender, using pulse/chop mode: 1 banana, 2 cups of orange juice, and 1 cup of frozen strawberries, and 1 cup of frozen raspberries or mixed berries. Top off with ice cream, and add a chocolate hazelnut "straw" for fun.

These glasses are a bit overfilled, but they didn’t stay that way long. To make two full glasses, blend the following in your blender, using pulse/chop mode: 1 banana, 2 cups of orange juice, 1 cup of frozen strawberries, and 1 cup of frozen raspberries or mixed berries. Top off with ice cream, and add a chocolate hazelnut “straw” for fun.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed, whether it’s at the beginning or the end of the day, take a few moments to stop. Stop shuffling papers, stop taking calls, and stop making lists. Change gears, and just live in the moment, at least for a while. You’ll be glad you did.

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.